Levon Vincent is a true veteran of international house and techno. A significant figure across two eras of music we seized the opportunity to tap into his unique insight and lengthy experience ahead of his slot in Room One this Saturday. Levon became an established DJ during the peak of the New York party scene back in the early 90’s and over the last few years has gone on to become a regular fixture in some of Europe’s most revered clubs – thanks primarily to releases on his own Novel Sound label that garnered DJ support from the likes of Steffi and Marcel Dettman.
Currently embarking on a couple of new projects, Levon also passed us over a mix for us to share with you. Recorded to promote the label it’s also perfectly timed for his gracing of the booth this Saturday.
Hi Levon, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for the fabric blog,
Thanks so much for having me. I am really looking forward to the gig on the 19th, and I am thankful to share my thoughts with you here.
Tell us about New York, it’s got such a rich history associated with dance music and you were witness to it, what was it like for you?
That's a good question. It might be best to try to convey a sort of macro-perspective on the era, because life was really special then, things felt hopeful. The transition from the 80s to the 90s- the reason it was a special time and why people look to it now for inspiration is because it really felt like the artists were calling the shots. Not only in the clubs but in general. It was sublime.
In the beginning of the 90s, there was an explosion of ideas and culture in NY- and across the world as well. People were excited. We were aware the internet would change our society dramatically. Awareness of the pitfalls of massive corporate control became prevalent in the mainstream. A good example would be the movement to reject cigarette companies using cartoon characters in their advertising. People were outraged by the "Joe Camel" campaign. They basically accused RJ REynolds, The manufacturer of Camel cigarettes of using the cartoon characters to indoctrinate children as future smokers. This proved to be a real awakening for people, and it spurred a movement to stop smoking all together. Shortly after many american cities agreed on smoking bans. That may or may not seem like much now, but it was revolutionary idealism. Around 91-93 - Those were the NYC Magic years for me. Every time you went to a club you would meet someone inspiring. Progressive minds were In charge of everything- the clubs, the fashion, the streets… and in some ways, the government as well. Having Clinton in the White house was important. The emergence of internet technologies was as exciting as anything I have ever seen. I would liken it to what we all learned in school about the age of industrial expansion a hundred years earlier. There was a palpable feeling everywhere that society and industry were changing rapidly- and for the better. We were all sharing the experience together, and the clublife reflected this as well. Tiny moments of harmony. House music, techno, breakbeats and hip hop were the soundtrack. All kinds of synthetic music, really.
Today you’re loved over here in Europe – especially in London and Berlin, what insights can you share about the cities from a DJ’s perspective?
Well, let's see... from a DJ's perspective: London is about the party. That's the truth. Its upfront and its gotta be loud. Berlin can be more fickle- slightly more discerning with regards to the music. It's to say, in London the partygoers outnumber your fellow DJs and producers in the clubs. In Berlin you are playing more for your colleagues and record nerds. Neither is a more optimal situation and I have no preference - but that is probably an accurate way to describe the differences between the two cities. If you can achieve a good balance and gain notoriety in both of these domains, then you are probably on top of your game… it's essentially the path I have found which will (hopefully) lead to being a well-versed Jock one day… To play between these two cities evenly is very important for the learning process in today's era. But I am lucky to have these opportunities; and I certainly know it. The records I make get me the gigs, thats how I am able to play all around, so up-and-comers take note: you may be a DJ first and foremost, but don't shrug off the music theory and honing your production skills - these days it helps to be versatile. Play a second instrument besides the decks, every single day.
What’s happening in New York today? I’ve heard from other NYC house producers that their records are doing well in the UK/ Europe but not selling on their home turf - why do you think that is?
That sounds like a logistical problem and not a reflection of the current dialogues happening in the city today. New York is alive and vibrant with dance sounds at this time. It's true to say it is more difficult to get the records to the hands of the american record customers, but that has more to do with a struggling distribution network- not the demand…. the demand is definitely there. Perhaps a new distributor will step up in America…
At the end of the day, we are all working independently and we are doing the best we can- but when it's so easy to get the records to a single distributor in Europe, who then gets the wax to 50 stores or more and pays you in a timely fashion, then thats what you do, so you can make another record. And another. And so on. As far as the scene in NY, I was fortunate last week to play there for a full house and they were really going crazy! The love the four-on-the-floor. It was great because for so many years I played for empty rooms back home. This was really my first opportunity to get the prime time slot, and I was so excited because it felt so good to get recognized in New York after 20 years of hard work.
What is it about house music that does it for you?
Hmmm. The "Bounce." The basslines in house music are comprised of musical notes. I love and play techno also, but usually I am building my sets around going to and away from tonal basslines, like a tension/release type of thing…. I love a good bassline-that will always make the people move.
2010 was a busy year for you as a DJ, what does 2011 have in store? I hear you’re set for another busy one…
Yes, I am working right down to the bone lately. I have several releases for this year. It feels good. I took a year off after I found success in 2009- something some folks said I was crazy to do… but i did it anyway. I was a little bit wary of being a "flavor of the month" when I was releasing all those records, so I decided to chill for a minute. Longevity is probably the most difficult thing to achieve in a musical career. But I have a long life ahead and I plan to spend it playing music and making records. Even with the break in releases, I never stopped writing tunes- so now I am sitting on some new sounds which will start rolling out this spring. I also began a Novel Sound Promotional Series of Mp3s, which can be shared by various clubs and blogs who have shown interest in the label and DJing styles. The series is called Ministry of Novel Sound Promoganda!
I did volume 1 myself, and it is my submission to you on this day. Thanks for having me on the blog, see you soon.
And finally, can you tell us a few standout tracks for you from the early 90’s and then a few from the end of the 2000’s - educate us!